Gardening is a much-beloved pastime of people all around the world. Despite its universal popularity, gardening can be much easier or harder, depending on your location. High altitude areas often prove tricky for gardeners due to factors such as a short growing season, cooler overall temperatures, lean soil, and unpredictable weather.
To successfully garden at higher altitudes requires extra work and smart plant selection. If you want to grow a garden in a high altitude area, you will need hardy plants that can function with a short growing season. Check out our list of 20 such plants for ideas for your mountain garden!
We have an article all about How To Garden At High Altitude and these are the plants we use.
Quick Information and Care Table
|Height (inches)||Color||Light||Bloom Time||Hardiness Zone|
|Alpine Aster||8 to 12||Blue, white, purple||Full sun||Early spring to mid-summer||4 to 7|
|Balloon Flower||4 to 36||Blue, pink, white||Full sun to partial shade||Summer||3 to 8|
|Bergenia||12 to 24||Pink, white, purple||Partial to full shade||Late spring||4 to 8|
|Black Snakeroot||48 to 96||White||Partial Shade||Mid to late summer||3 to 8|
|Bleeding Heart||Up to 36||Pink, red, white||Partial to full shade||Mid to late spring||3 to 9|
|Boltonia||36 to 72||White, pink||Full sun||Summer to fall||3 to 10|
|Catmint||9 to 36||Purple, pink, white||Full sun||Late spring to early fall||3 to 8|
|Columbine||6 to 36||Varied||Full sun||Spring to summer||3 to 9|
|Delphinium||24 to 72||Blue, purple, lilac||Full sun to partial shade||Early spring to mid-summer||3 to 8|
|Garden Phlox||12 to 60||Varied||Full sun||Mid-summer to fall||4 to 8|
|Lamb’s Ear||Ground cover||Silvery Green||Full sun to partial shade||Summer||4 to 8|
|Lupine||12 to 60||Varied||Full sun||Late spring to mid-summer||4 to 8|
|Monkshood||24 to 48||Blue||Full sun||Mid-summer||3 to 7|
|Obedient Plant||24 to 48||Pink||Full sun||Late summer to fall||3 to 10|
|Siberian Iris||24 to 48||Varied||Full sun||Late spring to early summer||2 to 9|
|Snow in Summer||6 to 12||White||Full sun||Early summer||3 to 7|
|Yarrow||24 to 48||White, yellow, red, pink||Full Sun||Summer||3 to 9|
The alpine aster is a member of the aster family and, as its name suggests, is particularly well suited to grow in mountainous regions. They produce short-lived blooms, like poor soil, and prefer well-draining dry soil. These qualities make them an excellent choice for high altitude gardens.
Alpine asters range in color from white to blue with purple and even pink varieties in between. They grow a single flower per stalk rather than in bunches, giving them an appearance similar to their relative, the daisy.
For the best results, alpine aster should be planted in full sun about a foot apart for adequate growth room. Alpine aster does great with drought but not with humidity, so do not overwater and give them room for airflow.
The balloon flower is most commonly blue (though there are pink and white varieties), which have balloon-shaped buds that open into star-shaped blooms. If you want a beautiful flower from lower regions that can handle higher altitudes, the balloon flower is the durable choice for you.
- Like alpine aster, the balloon flower prefers well-draining soil rather than an overly wet environment.
- However, it does require more nutrient-rich soil.
- If you have particularly lean soil, you may want to fertilize your beds before planting this species.
Balloon flowers do best in full sun to partial shade and have an enormous height range (4 to 36 inches) because of the existence of dwarf and mid-size variations. As long as you ensure that their soil is rich, balloon flowers are a hardy plant that will require little extensive care to grow in your mountain garden.
Here’s a cool video with some background of the balloon flower:
Thanks to the rugged and rocky nature of most high altitude environments, your garden is likely to have both spots with constant sun exposure and spots with very little exposure. If you need a plant for a low-light area, bergenia is an excellent choice.
- Bergenia, nicknamed pig squeak, grows to be one to two feet tall and produces clumps of small pink bell-shaped flowers.
- Its thick stems make it a good choice for windy areas.
- Bergenia does need consistent moisture, but if planted in full shade can handle drought longer.
- The more shade this plant has, the less water it needs.
Bergenia does not need overly nutritious soil, but it may help to add organic material if your soil is rather lean. Like all the plants on our list, bergenia is hardy and has a much better chance of surviving at high altitudes.
Black snakeroot, also known as black cohosh, is a larger plant that grows between four to eight feet tall. It grows in a clump and produces tall spikes clustered with small white flowers. Black snakeroot does best in partial shade and with high moisture, so it may require more watering.
While black snakeroot may not be the most colorful addition to your garden, this plant has several unique qualities that may make it worth your time. Black snakeroot is also known as bugbane because it creates a bad smell that drives away insects.
Black snakeroot is also an edible plant. As an herb, it has been used for arthritis and menstrual cramp pains. In current times, black snakeroot is seen as an alternative to medication for helping with menopausal symptoms.
If you want your mountain garden to have a bit of character as well as some taller foliage, black snakeroot can give you both.
For an eye-catching statement piece, you cannot get much better than bleeding heart. This plant has arching stems from which bloom heart-shaped pink or red flowers. These plants like the shade, but in a high altitude area, they may tolerate more sunlight because of the cooler temperature.
For a successful bloom, you should add compost to your soil before planting bleeding heart. After that, make sure to keep the soil moist as these plants like consistently damp soil. You can add mulch to help lock in moisture better.
Bleeding heart blooms in early spring and thus can make a nice pairing with a later blooming shade-loving plant such as bergenia.
The great thing about bleeding heart is that it looks impressive and show worthy, but the plant is relatively tough. Just make sure to keep it watered in the summer and dry in the winter, and you will be taking pictures of these delightful blooms every year!
Here’s a video explanation on how to grow bleeding heart:
Boltonia, also known as false aster, is a great choice for poor soil areas. These bushy flowering plants can grow in sandy and gravelly soil. They produce a sea of bloom in the late summer and fall, making them an ideal late-blooming addition to a high altitude garden.
Boltonia is a wildflower native to the Midwest United States. It grows wildly in an expansive range (Hardiness zones 3 to 10). This plant thrives quite well on its own. If you want to start a mountain garden but are not the most experienced gardener, this could be a great starting plant.
Once you get them established, your boltonias will prove quite resilient. They do prefer moist and rich soil, but they can tolerate some drought and lean soil. This is a plant that will bloom magnificently when things are going well but also won’t completely die when the mountain weather is not cooperating.
If you are not interested in trying to coordinate all of your flowers’ blooming times, catmint is a long-lasting bloom that will provide your garden with prolonged clumps of color.
Catmint is related to catnip but is a much more resilient plant, making it a better choice for the unpredictable and often harsh high altitude environment. It is part of the mint family, so you can expect a pleasant minty aroma.
These plants are extremely tough. As long as it gets sun and its soil does not get waterlogged, catmint will bloom just about anywhere. For high altitude gardens with particularly brutal conditions, catmint could be a great plant to try. Its hardiness also makes it a good choice for beginning gardeners.
If you think that a high altitude garden will severely limit you in terms of color, think again! The columbine is a gorgeous flower that is available in a range of colors. From yellow and red to blue and white, whatever color your mountain garden is lacking can be filled with columbines.
Columbines grow well in high altitude regions because they cannot tolerate extremely hot summers. They do well in well-draining but damp soil with full sun. Once your columbines are established, they should not need much additional watering except during droughts.
There are a lot of hybrid versions of columbines, which is how we get so many different colors. When planting, be careful not to mix different colored varieties if you want to keep particular colors. The different varieties will cross-pollinate and produce seeds that are not the color you wanted.
Here’s a helpful video about this plant:
If you are up for more of a challenge with a plant that requires more care but can still thrive in high altitude environments, delphinium could be for you. These plants grow stalks with thickly clustered flowers that make an excellent focal point for any garden.
Delphinium works great at higher altitudes due to its tolerance to colder temperatures. However, there are some things you will need to keep in mind if you want your delphinium to thrive.
Delphinium has hollow stalks, so if you want to avoid breakage and produce beautiful straight stalks, you will need to stake them with either a plant hoop or wooden stakes. To produce lush flowers, delphinium needs nutrient-rich soil, so you will need to fertilize them throughout the growing season. Delphinium also tends to need regular watering.
Overall, delphinium is just not quite as hardy as other plants on our list. Delphinium is more susceptible to diseases and other issues, so you will need to keep an eye on them for a successful bloom.
Despite the extra care needed, it cannot be denied that delphiniums are a show-stopping plant. If you are the type who likes to give plants tender, loving care, then delphiniums are a great cold-tolerant choice.
Most high altitude plants are better in cooler weather, which can be a problem if you happen to have a high altitude garden that can also get quite hot in the summer. Garden phlox is one of the few plants that does not wither under a hot sun, and that can also survive cold winters.
Garden phlox produces tiny flowers that are clustered in a large sphere on the top of the stem. They are another wonderful way to add missing colors to your high altitude garden.
Garden phlox can be harder to care for than some other plants on our lists. It is more likely to be eaten by visiting animals and is susceptible to powdery mildew. In addition, you will need to mulch it in the winter to provide warmth.
Flowers are great and beautiful, but a garden of nothing but bright blooms can easily become a contrasting mishmash. For a tasteful way to round out your high altitude garden, lamb’s ear is an easy to care for ground cover.
Lamb’s ear is silvery-green foliage with large velvety leaves. It does produce some small blooms in the summer. This plant can grow in extremely lean soil and rarely needs watering.
Lamb’s ear is an easy way to give your garden some depth. It can survive in the tough high altitude and requires almost no maintenance. Plus, its leaves can be used to ease the pain of scrapes and stings.
This video has some helpful info about lambs ear:
Lupine is a member of the pea family. The blossoms are packed around spikes that come out of their foliage. These plants naturally thrive on mountainsides making them an effortless addition to your high altitude garden.
Lupine grows great in nutrient weak soil and needs cooler temperatures to thrive. Lupine is harder to grow in warmer climates than in higher altitudes. If you plant lupine in a cool area in full sunlight, these flowers will practically take care of themselves.
Know that many species of this plant are toxic to humans and pets, so if you have little children or animals that will eat things they shouldn’t in your garden often, it may not be the best choice of plant.
Similar to lupine, monkshood grows naturally in mountain environments, making it a natural choice for a high altitude garden. Monkhood grows well in full sunlight. It needs shade in hotter areas, but at high altitudes, this should not be much of a problem.
Monkshood is native to mountainous regions, but that does not mean it will be easy to grow. This is a trickier plant to successfully establish. The soil needs to be moist but well-drained, and it is a slow grower.
Monkshood gets its name from its cowl shaped flowers, but it is also commonly called wolf’s bane. Remember this name before deciding to plant this flower because monkshood is extremely poisonous.
So much so that you should wear gloves when working with and around this plant. Please become familiar with the dangers and needed precautions before planting this.
Here’s some cautionary info on the monkshood:
Here we have another tough plant. The obedient plant has a large hardiness range and can survive in many areas. It thrives when given moist soil, but it is forgiving with poor soil as well.
Obedient plants are aggressive spreaders. Do not fertilize them unless they are in dire need, or they will take over your garden. These are one plant you may accidentally grow too much of in your high altitude garden.
Why the weird name? The obedient plant gets its name because the individual flowers can be bent in any direction, making for some creative garden possibilities. This plant is also known as false dragonhead as it resembles snapdragons.
The other name of sedum flowers, stonecrop, says everything you need to know about these hardy plants!
Sedum is a large group of plants with a huge variance. Some grow tall, some make a carpet, and the different kinds have different hardiness tolerance levels. It will not be hard to find a sedum plant to thrive in high altitude gardens.
Sedum is a beginner’s paradise plant. You can plant them, and then completely forget about them, and this tough group will still survive. You can be sure that there is a sedum variety that will act as though your high altitude garden is the finest greenhouse.
The Siberian iris is an entirely different flower than the more commonly known bearded iris, but that is not necessarily a bad thing! The Siberian iris is a tough plant able to withstand extremely cold winters, and it produces delicate and beautiful flowers in a large range of hues.
Surprisingly the Siberian Iris is the toughest plant on our list in terms of hardiness. Able to live in Zone 2, this flower could allow you to have a garden even at very high altitudes.
Here’s a helpful video about the Siberian Iris:
Snow in Summer
This low bushy plant makes a gorgeous carpet to fill in space in a flower bed. The small white flowers bloom in early spring, but snow in summer is also known for its silvery green foliage, which makes it a pretty plant even when not in bloom.
Snow in summer grows well in dry and sandy soil, making it a great choice for high altitude gardens with loose soil. They do spread quickly, so be prepared to fight back infestation if you do not want your whole garden to be snow in summer.
If you want to add some variety to your garden by getting away from strict flowers, yarrow is one of the few herbs that grow well at high altitudes.
Yarrow prefers dry and loamy soil. Like sedums, this is a plant that, even if you forget about it, will probably do just fine. In fact, yarrow does so well on its own that it can quickly invade your entire garden if not kept in check.
Even though yarrow is mostly known as a medicinal herb, its tiny blooms are still an attractive addition to your garden, whether you plan to use it like an herb or not.
Not everyone wants to grow gardens filled with flowers and ferns. Some people like to grow things they can eat, but this too can be challenging in high altitude areas. Many vegetables require long maturing periods, which n an area that tends to have short growing seasons, becomes a major obstacle.
One potential edible that can be grown in high altitude gardens are leafy greens. Vegetables such as spinach, kale, and cabbage do work in high altitude gardens because they do not require nearly as long to mature.
Leafy greens work so well in high altitude gardens because they do not need to produce fruit. Once they have grown, they are ready to eat, which allows you to plant and harvest within a high altitude’s limited growing season.
The other type of edible that can be grown at high altitudes is root vegetables. Vegetables such as carrots, turnips, radishes, and other root vegetables.
Not only do these vegetables start growing immediately, but they tend to be more tolerant to frost as a group. You will still need to consult a vegetable’s individual growth needs, but in general, root vegetables will prove far easier to grow in a high altitude area.
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